Tag Archives: Indian Technology

IRCTC Finally Releases Android App for Booking Train Tickets

Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation, better known by its abbreviation IRCTC, has finally launched its official Android app. The Android app launch comes over an year after the launch of a Windows 8 and Windows Phone app. IRCTC is one of the largest e-commerce vendors in the country with close to 5 million tickets sold every day. However, it has never been very quick or good at adapting to newer technologies. The Android app was long overdue, considering that India is a country where a significant chunk of the internet users access the web solely through mobile phones.

IRCTC Android App Splash Screen
IRCTC Android App Splash Screen

I had limited expectations from the app, considering that government websites are notorious for having ugly and convoluted user interfaces. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the app. It takes a few seconds to get started, and doesn’t support any social login. Once you sign-in, you are presented with the ‘New Booking’ page. Selecting source and destination stations is a breeze thanks to the autocomplete feature. The app presents all available trains in a neat grid and allows you to quickly view seat availability and proceed with the booking. The app offers notification of upcoming journeys, and allows you to view and cancel past bookings. The overall user interface is quite decent. The biggest eyesore is the banner ad that’s displayed at the bottom of the screen. Does a ticketing app of a subsidiary of the Indian government really need to display Google Ads?

IRCTC Android App Trains Between Station
IRCTC Android App Trains Between Station

A major issue with IRCTC Connect is that it doesn’t sync with the IRCTC website. Tickets that you have booked in the past through the web interface are not accessible through the app. This is a major issue, and will hopefully be addressed in future versions. Another drawback of the app is that it can’t be used during the peak hours (8:00 AM to 12:00 PM). In other words, even though the app supports Tatkal booking, IRCTC has imposed an artificial restriction to make it practically useless for Tatkal tickets.

IRCTC Android App New Booking
IRCTC Android App New Booking
IRCTC Android App Train Details
IRCTC Android App Train Details

[ Download IRCTC Connect | User Manual ]

Ladoo Offers Free Mobile Recharges for Engaging with Advertisers

Platforms like Tapjoy, which incentivize app downloads, have earned Apple’s wrath in the past for messing up App Store rankings. Critics say that these apps inflate download counts and manipulate app store rankings. However, there’s no denying that a lot of users and advertisers love incentivized download platforms. Hence, it’s not surprising that Airloyal is attempting to bring the same concept to India.

Ladoo - Earn Free Mobile Recharges

Airloyal’s Ladoo app for Android offers free mobile recharges to users for completing simple tasks. Almost all of the tasks that I saw on Ladoo’s offer wall involved downloading and installing free apps from Google Play. The reward amount depends on the advertiser, all of them ranged between ₹2 and ₹8.

Ladoo - Get Free Mobile Recharges

The name Ladoo is meant to symbolize the spirit of gifting and celebration. “If you think about it, you would have never really paid for the Ladooos you have eaten”, remarked Raja Hussain, Founder and CEO of Airloyal.

Ladoo Team
Ladoo Team

Airloyal’s company structure is based out of Singapore, but currently all the team members are in Chennai and Bangalore offices. Having raised funding from Australia’s tech millionaire Zhenya Tsvetnenko, Airloyal is looking to expand quickly and launch in a couple of South East Asian countries before the end of the current quarter. Ladoo claims itself to be profitable and is in the process of raising its Series A round. “When there is an ‘apple’ from the US that the world loves, why can’t there be a Ladooo from India that the world can enjoy?” quipped Raja Hussain.

Ladoo - Offers Wall

Mr. Hussain informed me that a dedicated user can earn over ₹ 500 in rewards every month. My own estimate based on what I’ve seen over the past week is a lot less. However, Ladoo features geo-targeting, which means means that everyone wont see every offer. Although, Mr. Hussain declined to give concrete user figures, he did reveal that within the first ninety days of its launch, Ladoo managed to register several thousand new users every day, with more than 40% daily retention, and generated almost 1 million instances of guaranteed engagement for brands. More than 40,000 offers are being completed every day.

Ladoo - Typical App Offer

The usage figures are quite good for a new app with minimal marketing capabilities. Ladoo is quite obviously offering something that a lot of users want – free talktime. However, the bigger question is how valuable are they to the brands? Currently, most of the apps advertised through Ladoo are good apps from big brands that I don’t mind having on my phone. Brands like Flipkart, Myntra, Snapdeal, Quickr, Tata, BookmyShow, and Airtel are driving downloads to their app through Ladoo. The quality of advertisers is a lot higher than that in other similar apps. Ladoo claims that early clients like TicketGoose are happy with the results and have continued to work with them. Ladoo’s biggest challenge will be continuing to deliver high quality leads even as the number of users increase. Quick downloads are a great way to climb through Play Store rankings and get your apps discovered. However, an engaged user base will enable Ladoo to retain the bigger players who often have higher rewards and offer better experiences.

Intex Cloud X3 is a Dual-Core Android 4.2 Smartphone for Rs. 3790

MediaTek processors have turned out to be a big hit among Indian manufacturers looking to offer attractive looking specs at jaw dropping prices. The MediaTek MT6589 enabled the boom in affordable quad-core smartphones. Now, the recently announced MT6572 is gearing up to push down the price of dual-core smartphones.

Intex-Cloud-X3

The first phone to take advantage of the new MT6589 chip is the Intex Cloud X3. This chip supports up to qHD resolution, but Intex has settled for a lot less. The Cloud X3 has a HVGA (320 x 480 pixels) resolution, which means that the 3.5’’ display will have below-par pixel density. However, that is quite acceptable. Because, Intex will be selling the Cloud X3 at a jaw dropping price of Rs. 3,790 (about 65 USD). The MT6572 will be clocked at 1 GHz, and will be powering a fairly recent Jelly Bean (Android 4.2) OS. Don’t expect spectacular performance from the X3 though. The dual-core processor is based on the dated Cortex A7 architecture, and there is only 256 MB RAM. Internal storage is only 115 MB, which will cause additional headaches for users. As is customary for phones at this price range, the Intex Cloud X3 has dual SIM support. Connectivity options include 2G, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. On the multimedia front, Intex has managed to squeeze in both front (VGA) and rear (2 MP) cams. Even FM and GPS chips are present.

The Cloud X3 is a specs powerhouse that promises to deliver full-fledged smartphone experience at a bargain basement price. The only thing that needs to be seen is how usable will the phone be keeping in mind the low-end chipset and severe lack of memory and storage.

Yahoo Holds Its Sixth Hackathon in India

Over the weekend, Yahoo! India hosted the 6th edition of Yahoo! Hack (21st worldwide) in Hyderabad to celebrate “unrestrained innovation”. The 24 hour hackathon attracted two hundred and fifty participants including students as well as professionals, and received fifty six hack submissions. About 8% of attendants at the event were woman, which is a percentage point higher than last year’s event at Bangalore.

Yahoo-Hack-Steam-Punk-Logo

While Yahoo! Hack didn’t have the scale of Microsoft AppFest that was organized in Bangalore, it still managed to get quite a few decent hacks. The grand prize winner was a mobile app called PlanMan!, which enabled Workflow Management through SMS and Missed calls. It was developed by Varun Kumar Nagarajan, Arun Kumar Nagarajan, Raghu Ram, and Amit Bharti. Other prize winners included an app that could use the smartphone’s accelerometer to automatically detect car accidents and alert emergency services, a travel app that could fetch info about real-time info about a train from a PNR number, an iOS app which offers users basic information about the city they are visiting like weather forecast, public transport, city hospitals, hotels and restaurants, Facebook friends who live in the city, and a finance app that claimed to use artificial intelligence to predict stock values.

Yahoo-Hack-Session

Nokia Introduces Entry Level Smartphone Asha 501 in India [Hands-On]

The distinction between smartphones and dumb phones has continuously blurred over the past few years with the plummeting prices of smartphones and the increasing capabilities of the so called dumb phones. Nokia Asha 501 burrs this line further with smartphone like features at a low price point.

Nokia-Asha-501-Launch-Presentation

The Nokia Asha 501 sports a 3-inch QVGA (320×240) resolution display with capacitive touchscreen. The touchscreen is capable of discerning up to two simultaneous touches, which allows it to detect simple gestures like pinch-to-zoom. As far as picture clarity is concerned, it is what you’d expect from a display with 133 ppi pixel density. Viewing angles are decent, but I didn’t get the opportunity to test the display outdoors. With the Asha 501, Nokia is introducing its new OS called “Nokia Asha software platform”, which is targeted at budget handsets. The Asha software platform comes with its own app store, and as many as fifty preloaded apps. Asha apps are essentially Java apps, and apparently porting existing J2ME apps is fairly straight forward. Nokia has reached out to developers to ensure that the phone launches with popular games like Asphalt 6 (preloaded), Need for Speed Shift, and Ninja Fruit Cutter. Nokia’s excellent HERE maps is also supported, however isn’t preloaded. However, due to the absence of a dedicated GPS chip, it will presumably rely on cell towers for location information.

Nokia-Asha-501-Front

The Asha software platform seemed intuitive and well designed from the brief hands-on time I got with the 501. The user interface is strongly driven, with a swipe up bringing up a context menu, a swipe down revealing the notifications, and a swipe to the left or right opening the ‘Fastlane’. The Fastlane is sort of an extended notifications area that Nokia touts as the hub for your past, present, and future. The Fastlane keeps track of everything you’re doing and lists the past fifty activities. This includes your recent contacts, the apps you’ve used, and the songs you’ve listened to. Tapping on any one of the items opens up the relevant app. You can directly update your Facebook or Twitter stream from the Fastlane without having to open up a new app. Additionally, it shows the upcoming events from your calendar. The low-end hardware did cause some hiccups, and some of the apps seemed prone to crashing, but the phone behaved reasonably well. The apps developed by Nokia are mostly beautiful, especially the Alarm and Music app, however third-party apps were a bit all over the place.

On the multimedia front, there is a 3.15 megapixel rear camera, which performs about as well as you can expect a camera in this price range to perform. It captures QVGA video at 15 FPS and snaps images with a resolution of 2048×1536 pixels. The Asha 501 supports audio and video playback, and includes a well done music player that even allows you to share music with other Asha phones by tapping two handsets. This utilizes a new feature called ‘Slam’, which can also be used for sharing images and other files. Slam works like the tap to send features we see in high end handsets; however, instead of using NFC, which low-end smartphones don’t support, it works purely using Bluetooth. On the connectivity front, the Asha is a dual-SIM handset with 2G and W-Fi (b/g) support, but it leaves out 3G. This is a surprising omission from a handset that is otherwise pretty feature packed. Nokia believes that consumers who pick the Asha 501 over other budget smartphones like the Lumia 520 are unlikely to have 3G connectivity, which still remains fairly expensive. Given that according to TRAI, only about 2% of Indian mobile subscribers are on 3G, Nokia may be onto something. Nevertheless, I would certainly like to see a 3G enabled version in the future, even if it costs a thousand bucks more.

One of the biggest concerns with smartphones is its battery life. The Asha 501 comes with a 1200 mAh battery, which isn’t exactly massive. However, thanks to the Asha platform, Nokia expects the 501 to last at least a couple of days for most people. Talk time is rated at 17 hours, and music playback at 56 hours.

Nokia-Asha-501-Back-Battery

The Nokia Asha is a low-end smartphone meant for folks who want a capable touch screen phone from a reputed brand but are on an extremely tight budget. It’s available in six attractive colors (White, Black, Yellow, Red, Green, and Blue) and costs Rs. 5199. Spending about three thousand bucks more will get you the Lumia 520 or a bunch of low-end Android smartphones from the likes of Samsung, Sony, and LG. However, if you don’t have that extra three thousand, then Asha offers a tempting option. It allows you to upload pics on Facebook, check-in to Foursquare, follow latest trends on Twitter, surf websites on Nokia Express browser, listen to music, and more. The Asha 501 takes care of most basic user requirements, and throws in the convenience of a capacitive touchscreen. The lack of 3G still irks me; however, as far as first impressions go, the Asha made its mark on me.

Nokia-Asha-501-Color-Options

Amazon India Launched, but Don’t Count Out Others Yet

After years of speculation, it has finally happened. Amazon India is now open for business. More than a year after launching Junglee, a price comparison engine, the ecommerce giant has launched its own full-fledged marketplace.

“Our vision, at Amazon, is to be Earth’s most customer centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover virtually anything they want to buy online. With Amazon.in, we endeavor to build that same destination in India by giving customers more of what they want – vast selection, low prices, fast and reliable delivery, and a trusted and convenient experience,” said Greg Greeley, Vice President of International Expansion at Amazon.com. “We’re excited to get started in India and we will relentlessly focus on raising the bar for customer experience in India.”

India is Amazon’s tenth marketplace, after countries like USA, UK, Canada, China, and Japan. The Seattle based online retailer is starting off with its strong suite – books. Amazon India claims that it currently has more than 7 million books in its catalog. The Indian store also has nearly ten thousand movies and a little over one thousand TV shows for sale. Other categories including Mobiles and Camera are expected to be launched soon.

The Amazon India launch was months in the making. However, the biggest stumbling block was the Indian government. Restrictions on foreign investment on multi-brand retailers prevented Amazon from setting shop in India. However, it appears that Amazon has found a way around the regulations. Unlike in the US and many other countries, Amazon won’t be maintaining its own inventory. Instead it will be operating purely in a marketplace based model. Times of India is reporting that Amazon has signed up 100 vendors across the country, and has setup a 1.5 lakh sqft fulfillment center near Mumbai to service online orders. Amazon is also inviting other retailers to sign up and list their products in the Amazon marketplace. It is providing two options for vendors – Selling on Amazon and Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA). The former allows the seller to list their products on Amazon.in, while retaining control over inventory, shipping, and customer service. The latter allows the seller to leverage Amazon’s expertise by offloading logistics, shipping and customer service also to Amazon.

Amazon-India-Infographic

Flipkart Shuts Down Flyte, Blames Piracy

Flyte-Digital-Music-StoreA little more than a year ago, Flipkart launched Flyte with more than a million tracks spread across a wide array of genres. The objective was to revolutionize the Indian market by offering high quality, DRM-free music downloads at an affordable price. The recording industry hoped that the digital music store might entice Indian music lovers to give up piracy. Fifteen months on, it’s clear that Flyte didn’t quite live up to the expectations. Flipkart has announced that it will be shuttering the service on June 17, 2013. Purchased music will continue to remain available for download until August 18, 2013.

“We have realized that the music downloads business in India will not reach scale unless several problem areas such as music piracy and easy micro-payments etc. are solved in great depth”, said Mekin Maheshwari, head of digital media and payments at Flipkart. “Which is why, we feel that at present, it makes sense to take a step back from Flyte MP3s and revisit the digital music market opportunity at a later stage.”

Maheshwari’s statement highlights just how deep rooted the problem of music piracy is in India. With dozens of websites offering the latest music releases for free, and local CD-wallahs selling pirated media with hundreds of songs for less than a dollar, most Indians consider purchasing music legally a folly. Flipkart also made its task harder with a crude delivery system. The online music library lacked even the most basic features, and the download manager was stupid enough to drive anyone up the wall. There were also rumors that Flipkart had failed to renew their licensing agreement with the music labels. Flyte had managed to amass almost 100,000 customers during its short existence. So, it’s also possible that stubborn record labels sealed their fate more than music piraacy. Apple recently stepped into the Indian market with the launch of iTunes in India. It’s unknown how well it is faring in India; however, Apple is unlikely to give up so soon.

Opera: Facebook Most Popular Website, Samsung Most Popular Smartphone Manufacturer in India [Infographic]

The latest edition of Opera’s State of the Mobile Web report is out, and this time the focus is squarely on India — Android users in India to be more specific. Android is making its presence felt in India thanks to the multitude of affordable Android smartphones, some of which available for less than $70. The availability of cheap smartphones, combined with the dearth of cheap and fast internet connection makes Indians the ideal demographic for Opera Mini, which reduces page load times as well as bandwidth consumption thanks to its compression technology. Unsurprisingly, India is home to the largest number of Opera Mini users in the world. Over the last year, Opera Mini users on smartphones in India increased by 136.6%, constituting 19% of the total Opera Mini users in India.

The most popular categories of websites in India are social networks, search, and cricket. About 21.7% of the data used by Opera Mini’s Android users in India is for Facebook, while Google used up about 5.8%, and ESPNCricinfo about 1.7%. However, Google remained the most popular website in India. Besides using Opera Mini for social networking, Indians were also searching for news and information, doing price comparison, and shopping online. Almost 50% of the top hundred domains visited by Opera Mini’s Android users belonged to these categories. The top ten websites were Google, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, Yahoo, Cricbuzz, Indiatimes, Ask, Vuclip, and In.com.

When it comes to devices, the top ten list is dominated by budget handsets, with the record breaking Samsung Galaxy S III featuring as low as the 19th spot. All of the top nine handsets used by Opera Mini users were priced under Rs. 10,000 (about $186), with the Samsung Galaxy S II grabbing the tenth spot. The most popular Android smartphone among Opera Mini users were the Samsung Galaxy Y and the Samsung Galaxy U Duos. Samsung has clearly managed to corner the high volume low-end Android smartphone market. The only non-Samsung device to feature in the top ten is the HTC Explorer A310e, which is present at #8 in the list.

If the overdose of stats is putting you to sleep, here’s a neat infographic highlighting the key aspects of Opera’s report.

Opera-India-Android-Infographic

Ebay India Census 2012: A Look Into the State of E-commerce

Ebay has released its 2012 census, which offers a unique perspective at the state of e-commerce in India. Since, eBay sells pretty much everything under the sun, it’s in an unique position to offer us a glimpse at what Indians are buying and selling. You might be aware that a lot of youths are buying t-shirts and gadgets online, but did you know that every two minutes one note or coin is sold on eBay?

State-of-Ecommerce-in-India

Maharashtra grabbed the top spot in terms of buying and selling stuff online, largely due to Mumbai, which is most active city on eBay India. Other cities in the top ten were Dehi, Jaipur, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Chandigarh, and Pune. While mobile phones, watches, fragrances, and apparel dominated the list of products sold and bought, most cities had one or two surprise entries.

  • Delhi sold a lot of Indian notes, while Mumbai sold loads of Indian stamps. Mumbai also bought plenty of British India coins, and imported British Colonial Stamps. Chinese stamps are #1 on the list of goods imported by Chennai residents. Similarly, Hyderabad is fascinated with Malaysian coins.
  • Jaipur, the capital of the desert state Rajasthan, sold loads of room heaters.
  • Delhi bought the most chocolates, while Bengaluru exported the most Yoga videos. Kolkatans on the other hand are in love with Tibetian collectibles.
  • Top brands in India were Samsung, Apple, Sony, and Nokia respectively.

Head over to shopping.ebay.in/census to glance at the state of e-commerce in India.

LG’s New M-Disk Ready Drive Can Write DVDs That Last up to 1000 Years

Some things in life are just too precious to forget and move on. Your marriage video, the picture of your child walking for the first time, or his first day in school. These are memories that you can’t afford to lose. Unfortunately, keeping your memories safe can require much more work than apparent at first glance. All storage devices have a shelf life. For a hard drive it’s about five years, while for a DVD it’s about 8 years. Cloud storage options might seem more tempting, but they are only good for as long as the service lasts. Millenniata, an Utah based digital storage company, believes that it has the perfect solution.

M-Disc-Long-Lasting-DVD-Technology

Millenniata has developed a storage technology that promises to permanently etch data onto the write layer of the disc for use anytime and for generations to come without any data loss. Millenniata’s M-Disc is essentially a specially manufactured DVD with four separate layers constructed of organic, synthetic materials. Data is physically engraved into a patented rock-like layer that is resistant to light, temperature, humidity, and more.

LG-M-Disk-Long-Lasting-DVD-Drive

LG has tied up with Millenniata to launch M-Ready Drives that can write data onto M-Discs. Since M-Discs are essentially DVDs, once written, they can be read in most standard DVD and Blu-Ray drives. LG is launching its Super Multi DVD Writer in India for Rs. 2,000. I’m still waiting for clarification on how LG intends to sell M-Disc drives in India. They are currently available on Millenniata’s website at $30 for 10 discs before adding shipping costs and taxes. This equates to about Rs. 162 for each disc.

LG-M-Disk-Long-Lasting-DVD-Writer